Out-of-State DUI Convictions

Every state has its own definition and name for a drunk driving offense. Instead of DUI, some states will call the same type of offense driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI). Because the names and definitions are not exactly the same, the issue then arises, when and how will a charging state treat an out-of-state DUI conviction for enhancement or suspension purposes?

For a prior DUI conviction to be used for enhancement purposes, most states will require some similarity between the charging state’s DUI offense and the out-of-state DUI conviction. For suspension purposes, the similarity is less important. What is required is that the two states have entered into an agreement to give full faith and credit to the laws of the other state. Read on to learn more about out-of-state DUI convictions.

Understanding Out-of-State Conviction Rules

Most states have specialized enhancement rules for DUI offenses. The first few offenses are considered misdemeanor levels. As a person picks up new DUI offenses, the level gradually increases from a higher level misdemeanor to a felony offense. If a prior out-of-state DUI conviction does not qualify as a prior conviction, the disqualification of the conviction can result in a charge being reduced from a felony offense to a misdemeanor offense. This means that a defendant will face a much lower and lenient punishment range. If a defendant’s DUI charge is being enhanced by an out-of-state conviction, they should take the time to understand how and when an out-of-state DUI conviction can be used to enhance a sentence.

When States Can Use Out-of-State DUI Convictions for Enhancement

With some limitations, every state will recognize convictions from other jurisdictions for punishment purposes. However, when an out-of-state conviction is to enhance a specific offense, like DUI or assault, to a higher level offense, then the out-of-state conviction (or predicate conviction) must meet certain requirements.

In determining whether an out-of-state DUI conviction will qualify as a predicate conviction for enhancement, a defendant should review the charging state’s rules for accepting out-of-state DUI convictions and then review the elements for the out-of-state DUI conviction. 

Most states require a “substantial similarity” between the offense charged and the offense for which the defendant was previously convicted. The degree of similarity required is often guided by case law, which are rules or interpretations set by appellate judges. Courts will usually look for similarities in the intent requirement, the basic components of the two offenses, and how the other state defines intoxication or being impaired.  

For example, Texas will accept an out-of-state DUI conviction from Colorado despite variations in the definition of intoxication, the wording of the statutes, and the title of the statutes. Colorado calls a similar offense driving while ability impaired. While doing a comparison of the two statutes, courts found that the element of “driving” was similar to Texas requirements that a defendant “operate” a vehicle. The courts also found sufficient similarities between the proofs required for intoxication. 

If the elements or components of the charges are substantially different between the charging state and the out-of-state DUI conviction, the conviction cannot be used for enhancement purposes. In addition to the general requirements, some states add other restrictions on the use of out-of-state DUI convictions. Montana, for example, requires that any conviction, including an out-of-state DUI conviction, be less than five years old in order to be available for enhancement.

The process of comparing the charging state’s rules to the elements of the out-of-state DUI conviction can be somewhat tedious, but is worth the effort if the change can result in a reduction of punishment. If a defendant fails to raise disqualification of the out-of-state conviction before they enter a plea, that failure to timely raise the issue can result in a waiver of the right to challenge all of the evidence, including the enhancement paragraphs.

Out-of-State Convictions and Drivers License Suspensions

The rules regarding the suspension of a driver’s license are separate from the rules regarding enhancement. Most states have adopted or agreed to the Interstate Driver’s License Compact. This means that if a defendant is convicted of DUI in another state, his home state will suspend his license at the request and pursuant to the rules of the state that obtained the out-of-state conviction.

There is no requirement that the out-of-state DUI conviction be similar or substantially similar to the home state’s DUI offense. A defendant may, however, have limited rights to appeal that are controlled by the rules of their home state. 

Getting Help

DUI convictions carry long-term and serious consequences. A charge elevated to a felony level offense has even more consequences than a basic misdemeanor. Before accepting a plea bargain for any DUI offense that is enhanced with an out-of-state DUI conviction, a defendant should visit with an attorney in the charging state, and possibly consult with an attorney from the out-of-state conviction to ensure that the conviction qualifies as a predicate for enhancement purposes.